Hifiman must be one of the manufacturers that have been discussed and discussed all over the audiophiles crowd. Not only because most of their headphones are tough to drive or using planar driver (Instead of dynamic driver that used in most headphones), but also because of their extraordinary price to performance ratio, their highest end model, HE-6 (1299USD) can easily compete with the highest end model from Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser and Audeze. However, the spotlight is not only on the HE-6, but also the lower entry/mid HE400 (399USD) and HE500 (699USD).
So why are the HE400 and HE500 available in the market? Don’t be fooled by the impedance rating, HE500 is quite close in term of audio quality to HE-6 but it is much easier to drive, Hifiman claimed that HE500 can be directly drive by a consumer grade headphone amp (HE-6 can only drive by few headphone amp and most of the time need a speaker amp to drive it), HE400 should can be drive by a portable music player like Ipod, claimed by Hifiman.
Thanks to Riccardo from Hifiman Taiwan to send me this review unit of HE400, I will be reviewing the Hifiman HE400 today in Earmass.com.
HE400 is an open back design and circumaural full size headphone. I have never expected this to be small and light (As imposing Planar driver), when I held it in hand I can immediately feel the weight of it, mostly constructed by plastic (The earcup) but it is quite solid, build quality is good although I can say it is durable, the only worry is I scared the plastic ear cup will break if you drop it for few times. However, there is no crackling sound or whatsoever have been heard during the review process. Strange enough, it is in blue colour, this is the obvious design that you can recognise HE400 from far distance. It is not ugly, but it is just an extraordinary move.
Isolation is performed as you can expect from an open back headphone, HE400 isolates next to nothing, you can listen to environment and if your environment is noisy, I will not recommend HE400 to you. However because of the open back nature, it has no resonance and quite spacious/airy, this is something that I can’t have with closed back headphones.
Comfort level is just average, it is quite weighty, although I have not experiencing any discomfort after long term of usage, but I will have to say this is not the most comfortable headphone in the price range that I have ever tested, good sound is all HE400 about, although the ergonomics and comfort level is not up to the top in this price range, but HE400 is not sucks either.
I do think that cable is really heavy and bulky, I don’t like how the way it is although it is not as heavy or annoying as something like Sennheiser HD202 ii that I have owned before, but I don’t need the extra length, my computer is just in front of me all the time, I do hope that Hifiman can included a shorter length version of cable. The cable is luckily interchangeable. The plug itself is only been used by Hifiman, no other manufacturer cable use the same plug as the Hifiman series.
Can be drive by portable audio player?
From my personal experience, if you do not have or at least thinking to buy a headphone amp, you can just remove this headphone in your buying list. I have tried HE400 with Ipod Touch 4th Generation and although when you maxed the volume you can get enough volume, you can’t really get decent body and dynamic that this HE400 capable to deliver. I have tested HE400 with XDuoo X1, which is a powerful MP3 player, although by 70 percent of the maximum volume you can get good listening volume but distortion started to creep in, bass is muddy and dynamic of sound is not there, you can’t have the enough body that with a proper amp as well. Hisound Nova 1 and Colorfly C3, at about 95% of their maximum volume, you can have good listening volume, but same problem repeated again, sound does not have enough body, vocal is lifeless and bass is not deep and muddy, not good enough, I will just say, if you intended to drive this headphone with your portable music player, forget about this, a higher end portable player might do the trick, but not those I have just mentioned. You really will need a good source and headphone amp to enjoy Hifiman HE400.
Running In, Amping and Synergy
I have tried different amplifier and DAC with HE400, I personally like how a warm sounding DAC and headphone amplifier working with HE400, they are pairing fine. I like the Arce MDAC3, Yulong Audio D100 II and iFi iCAN paired with HE400, they are little bit warm in term of sound signature.
You will really need to burn this baby at least 150 hours (As the manual book suggested), I am not the guy who believe hundreds hours of burning in process will alter the sound signature much but this time I was totally sold to the idea. Before running in the treble is really harsh and I almost can’t stand with it (Although sometimes I am treble happy person), after running in, treble is much more tractable and gentle. Don’t judge HE400 sound right out from the box, you really need to run it in.
HE400 is all about sound quality, I can feel how Hifiman desired to make something that can compete well or performed better than the headphone in this price range. Hifiman HE400 is full with weighty, rich, clear, gain-less and forward sound signature. If you mentioned the Hifiman HE400 without mentioned about the extraordinary bass response, I played ‘Electric Daisy Violin’ by Lindsey Stirling, bass is weighty and have good impact and quite deep, while the violin still sounded clear and unobstructed by the bass response. However I will still saying that Hifiman HE400 is not really for basshead kind of listeners, because HE400 has somehow fast decay and not rumbling much. In another said, the bass quality is towards audiophile kind of bass quality, not basshead kind, for me this is a good thing.
While the bass response is agile, the treble is somehow quite obvious, I can accept this kind of sound signature but I can understand if those who are allergic to bright sound signature will be thinking this is a bright headphone. Unlike other headphone that I have heard, treble is sparkly and full with energy I can say. For example, I can listen to the sound of Cymbal in every songs in album ‘Hell Freezes Over’ (The Eagles) CLEARLY in an unobstructed way. I played the album ‘Caravan of dreams’ (Peter White) and it is really nice, the bass responses with good texture and layering, while treble is energetic and encouraging, instrument is clear and expressive, all in their very own line, not going to interrupted others, means instrument separation of HE400 is really excellent!
I played ‘Dance with my father’ (Celine Dion) next, the focusing soundscape is something that make you feel like evry instrument is clear as the vocal is, at the same time means the vocal is not standing out, everything sounded as clear as vocal sounded, clean and crystal clear. Detail level is impressive and natural, it came out naturally.
Imaging and positioning is one thing that HE400 really proud of. You can easily know where is the instrument is positioned, imaging is really great, I noticed this once I put this headphone on my ears, you can easily link to the music. However, soundstage is just average although it has good height and depth but not in width, good thing is the imaging and positioning power do help a lot to enhanced the performance of HE400, often making me forget about the soundstage width, because for me imaging and positioning is sound factor that I considered more important than soundstaging (For me). HE400 is airy and spacious enough to express out the opened back sound signature. However if your ‘always on the playlist’ songs are from Classical, I think you can find a better headphone for this types of musics, but if classical is one of the genre that you listened to, mix with other genre, I really think HE400 can give you a good serve.
Hifiman HE400 is an audiophile headphone that can provide good and respectable bass performance, which is very rare for an ‘audiophile’ grade headphone. I have to clarify that HE400’s bass is about quality, not that kind of bass that is obstructing or offensive. It has a good presentation and ‘pronounces’ audiophile without losing any fun factor. While comfort level is not great, but it is not bad either, I have no problem to use it under long period of time.
For me, Hifiman has strike a nicely balanced price to performance ratio for the audiophile headphone market. This is a good and worthy entry level audiophile headphone, if you are worrying that you will lose too much bass when you upgrade your headphone, I seriously think HE400 should be your first move, although you really need an amp to make HE400 shine, I am not agreeing with Hifiman in this regard, without using an amp, I really think HE400 should out of your list.
Without saying much, I recommended the Hifiman HE400.